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Plans For Chick-Fil-A At Kansas City Airport Out, More Minority-Owned Eateries In

Vantage Airport Group
A rendering of a food court area in the new terminal at Kansas City International airport includes Kansas City-area restaurants Poio and Tay's Burger Shack.

After pushback from LGBTQ advocates, Chick-Fil-A has been removed as a possible fast food option at the new KCI Airport terminal. But the proposed vendor still faces opposition from Kansas City staples Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que and J. Rieger & Co. Distillery

Vantage Airport Group, the company that is hoping to win the lucrative concessions contract at the new Kansas City International Airport terminal, heard one message loudly and clearly this week.

That message came from the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, which released a letter Monday saying Chick-fil-A should not be allowed at the airport because of its CEO’s hostility toward the gay community.

On Wednesday, a Vantage representative told a city council committee that Chick-fil-A will not be on the list of proposed concessions.

“We heard and respect the strong community reaction to the proposed Chick-fil-A,” said Rob Van Snik, senior director of commercial development with Vantage.

“After collaborating with the aviation department we made the decision to remove Chick-fil-A from the program and will work hard to find and identify suitable options for its replacement. “

The council is debating whether Vancouver-based Vantage Airport Group should win the 15-year contract to handle the new airport terminal concessions. It’s a crucial decision that could create a favorable or decidedly unfavorable first impression among visitors to the city.

A special selection committee unanimously recommended Vantage Airport Group over four other proposers: Delaware North Companies Inc.; Greater Kansas City Restaurant & Retail Group; MERA KC; and PLTR-SSP @KCI LLC.

But representatives of some prominent local businesses, such as Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que and J. Rieger & Co. Distillery, who were part of a rival bid, have questioned whether all the bidders got fair consideration.

The ultimate decision is up to the city council. The council’s transportation, infrastructure and operations committee heard testimony Wednesday but postponed a recommendation vote until Sept. 29.

Selection committee members have said Vantage was chosen because it had the best financial proposal, good partnerships with local Kansas City vendors and community organizations, and a strong commitment to disadvantaged, minority and small businesses.

At the new KCI terminal, slated to open in March 2023, those local vendors are expected to include a variety of barbecue operators, Bo Lings, Martin City Brewery, a Made in Kansas City Marketplace, Parisi Coffee, City Market vendors and healthy food eateries.

Vantage Airport Group
A proposal from Vantage Airport Group includes restaurants from several Kansas City entertainment districts, like the City Market.

On Wednesday, several small businesses that are part of the Vantage bid urged the council to support that choice.

Anita Moore, chef at Soiree Steak and Oyster House on 18th and Vine, said her business has struggled during the pandemic. She said she met with several of the airport concession bidders but Vantage was clearly superior.

“We’re not even into the airport yet and they’ve helped me in so many ways,” she said. “They threw me a lifeline and a partnership that I could not refuse.”

Representatives of Parisi coffee, Stockyards Brewing Co., Martin City Brewing and Made in KC Marketplace also praised Vantage’s support for small and minority-owned businesses.

Former Kansas City Councilwoman Sharon Sanders Brooks said one of the best aspects of the Vantage proposal is the unique opportunity it gives to local artists to display and sell their works at the airport.

But Andy Rieger of J. Rieger & Co. said the city has just one chance to get this right. He argued the city should fairly consider a rival bid that includes his company, Joe’s Kansas City, concepts by the Royals and Sporting Kansas City and several James Beard winning chefs in town.

“The airport is our city’s moment to shine,” he said. “Our entire team of established brands has clearly shown unlimited support to Kansas City over the years and an unparalleled level of brand integrity and leadership.”

Ryan Barrows, vice president of operations with Joe’s Kansas City, agreed. He questioned why the recommended bidder has a revolving one-year lease for barbecue operators, rather than a signature establishment.

“Kansas City is a barbecue town, and a major barbecue operator should be front and center at the new airport,” Barrows said. “We worked diligently to design a space that can offer air travelers the same type of experience they can expect at Joe’s Kansas City.”

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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